Oregon was Oregon on the opening drive, getting off seven snaps in the first 90 seconds of game time. But there was also an element of danger to the Ducks’ drive. Twice, they put the ball on the turf, and both times, they were on the right side of good fortune. The first fumble, Thomas Tyner recovered himself. The second, a video review cleared Marcus Mariota. It was scary business for a team with only 10 giveaways all season.
No matter the teams, no matter the style, no matter the place, football games are still won on the line of scrimmage. Ohio State clearly won a knockout in that department in the first half. The Buckeyes stopped a fourth-and-goal on defense, and they converted a third-and-goal on offense. They sacked Oregon’s wizard of a quarterback, Marcus Mariota.
Against physical play like Ohio State delivered, tackling is a big deal, especialy against a giant like Ohio State’s Cardale Jones. He’s 6-5 and 250, which is monster size for a quarterback. He was able to power his way to a first down on the opening possession, but he couldn’t escape a tackle by Oregon’s Reggie Daniels, who threw his 205 pounds at Jones’ legs to stop the Buckeyes’ opening drive. Oregon cornerback Troy Hill forced a fumble with a pop on the ball against receiver Corey Smith.
When Ohio State asserted itself, starting with its second possession, it was a powerful statement. Not only did the Buckeyes go 97 yards for a touchdown, they did it with straight-ahead blocking and sheer strength from running back Ezekiel Elliott. He burst through for a 33-yard touchdown, and he had another brutish run to the 3-yard line. Oregon delivered a stop on Ohio State’s first drive. But that was before Ohio State apparently settled in.
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It’s hard to understate the impact of a third-down drop in the first quarter by Oregon receiver Dwayne Stanford. It was the Ducks’ third drive, and it was going nowhere. But on third-and-long, Ohio State blew a coverage, and Stanford got away. But backpedaling, he couldn’t hang on to a ball from Mariota, the Ducks punted, and Ohio State powered its way to a 14-7 lead. It was the second mistake in the first quarter by an Oregon receiver. Charles Nelson slipped out of a break on a third down, forcing Mariota to look for in another direction, and he threw incomplete.
Oregon made an interesting decision to go for it on fourth-and-goal from the 3 in the second quarter, down 14-7. It makes sense to try to gain an extra four points with your best unit, but Marcus Mariota might have made the wrong decision in handing off. It looked like the Buckeyes had the offense outnumbered at the point of attack. It cost points, and Ohio State almost made the mistake more costly until its own turnover on the other end of the field ended the trouble.
There was no question the Ducks would take the 3 points on their final possession of the half. The short field goal cut the lead to 21-10, but that is still more than a possession’s difference. With Ohio State getting the ball to start the second half, it magnified the missed chance to get within seven points. Coach Mark Helfrich and the defense managed to get the ball back to the offense one more time before the half ended. The bonus possession went nowhere, but it might have provided a an extra sliver of confidence after a taxing first half.
Carlos Mendez, 817-390-7407